Roland Smith was born in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from Portland State University and, following a part-time job at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, began a 20-year career as a zookeeper, both at the Oregon Zoo and the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. After working to save wildlife following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, in 1990, he published his first book, Sea Otter Rescue, a non-fiction account of the process of animal rescue. Smith continued to draw upon his zoo experiences for other non-fiction titles, including Journey of the Red Wolf, which won an Oregon Book Award in 1996.
In 1997, Smith published his first novel, Thundercave. The book continues Smith's theme, as teenage protagonist Jacob Lansa follows his biologist father to Africa where the father is researching elephants. The Lansa character also appears in 1999'sJaguar and 2001's The Last Lobo.
Other novels by Smith include My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe, Zach's Lie, Jack's Run, Cryptid Hunters, Sasquatch , about a boy who searches for Bigfoot. Peak, the story of a teenage boy obsessed with climbing mountains, Elephant Run, and Tentacles. In 2008, Smith published the first book in the series I, Q, titled Independence Hall.